Catalyzed by the Grinter Report, engineering education was previously revolutionized by aligning its practice and education with science. This alignment created a social-technical duality in engineering where the technical skills were elevated, social skills were relegated. In response, calls have risen for holistic training of engineering students who understand the societal needs and the societal implications of their practice. Our NSF-sponsored Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project was conceived as one potential solution to this challenge. In this project, we are revolutionizing our department by realigning our curriculum with healthcare and medicine, contexts that require the integration of social and technical expertise.
Inequities driven by rising costs of healthcare, the increased role of technology in medicine, and ethical dilemmas driven by increases in population and age-related diseases, all necessitate that engineers and healthcare providers both respond to these urgent societal needs by employing available scientific knowledge to derive solutions for complex systems that are not yet fully understood. These disciplines must precede and drive science by translating social needs into technical problems. We need to determine how to provide “higher quality healthcare to more people at lower cost” and train bioengineering leaders of tomorrow to drive “Moore’s law for health care.” In our revolution, we are aligning our Bioengineering Department with medical practice and education by driving our curriculum around the simple message of “no solution without a need.” While traditional engineering curricula are organized around scientific principles (e.g., signals and systems) or technologies (e.g., imaging), our new curriculum will be organized around the physician and patient needs (e.g., diagnosing pathologies and pain management, respectively) that necessitate the science and technology.
In this paper, we will describe the challenges (needs) that are driving our revolution and then describe the objectives that we are undertaking to address those challenges. We have identified four challenges that necessitate our revolution: 1) Students trained with a focus on only technical capabilities will be unprepared to meet the societal challenges facing bioengineers, 2) Given the interdisciplinary nature of bioengineering, students often lack the opportunities to develop deep technical expertise, 3) An inflexible curriculum stifles creativity and passionate pursuits, keeping students and faculty from deeply engaging in undergraduate research, internships, study-abroad, or clinical experiences, and 4) A forthcoming engineering-based College of Medicine (CoM) on our campus will render our current model of instruction and teaching assignments unsustainable as our bioengineering faculty will teach in the new CoM. Our revolution will have four objectives for our undergraduate program: 1) redesign the curriculum so that societal needs for healthcare and medicine drive the technical content, 2) integrate co-curricular experiences providing insight to the clinical needs and challenges from the freshmen year, 3) translate medical assessment practices to align clinical experiences with the curriculum, and 4) develop our faculty’s teaching skills to meet these new challenges by engaging their intrinsic motivations to revolutionize the department. We will particularly focus on describing our preliminary efforts toward creating the clinical immersion experiences for first-year students that will satisfy the first two objectives.
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